This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here
The Moscow saga, continued. Beginning of the story
Day 5 – 1 pm :
The roller coaster that was the Moscow trip just ended as we get on a high speed train to St Petersburg. It is similar to the ICE trains that one might encounter in Germany or France, probably a notch lower. (You can definitely feel it moving in a way which tells you there is some compatibility issues b/w the train and the tracks!; there were even a couple of seat handle grabbing moments in the ride) The route takes us through the Russian countryside, zooming past fishermen, farmers, an occasional creek, normal-looking-people (finally, after the hot-fest that was Moscow!) waiting on stations to take trains to perhaps their normal-jobs from their normal-looking-lives. Gives me some time to reflect and type away on the phone.
So before I start off again with references to people’s looks (despite previously being told not to), I must disclose that I was put up in an upscale neighborhood close to the Square, which also happened to be hot-night-life-adjacent, and so on. Selection bias was in fact the answer… This became more evident on the last leg of the Moscow trip as we were doing a metro-station-hop (more on this later), and decided to take a break and get off at Izmailovsky for (surprise, surprise!) some more shopping. Relatively far off from the central buzz, this seemed like a more “utilitarian” place, if you will. Smaller roads, more domestic cars, hawkers selling paintings, Matyushkas, carpets, Ivan Ivanovsky hats (bought it! – Exhibit 1) , fresh produce, souvenirs, you name it. Differences were stark. Less Dolce Gabbana, more flea market. Less wine, more beer. Less skin, more clothes. Must admit, felt kinda happier.
Anyways, after the heady Red Square experience of the first day, we decided to complete the experience by going there again early morning next day and taking pictures of the great monuments that could put Narcissus to shame. The energy and enthusiasm in the place was infectious and I got swept up in the groove (Exhibit 2). My extremely resourceful sister also had a whole tour of the Kremlin planned out. The Russian government allows visitors access to certain buildings inside the otherwise secretive complex including the Kremlin armory, a 007-type-named-place called the “Diamond Fund” alongwith Tsar-made churches and a few other buildings. The Kremlin, after all, served as the seat of power for centuries upto the 17th century when Peter the Great decided to shift some stuff around and make his own capital.
I’m sorry to say this, but dayum, those churches had some dull interiors. Having seen my fair share of European places of worship, these churches can at best be described as gaudy. Every nook and cranny that they could find, they coated with gold, covered by a Biblical painting, or both. Interiors with excessive red-based colors, heavy candle lighting and low sunlight just made them more unappealing. Did, however, get to see the coffin of a Mr Terrible, so overall would rate the churches a 3/5!
The Kremlin armory on the other hand was some other-level exhibit. The audio-guide led us through rooms and halls full of heavy chainmail armor, ivory encrusted guns, human-size swords embellished with gems, gold ladles, sapphire broaches, diamond necklaces, flowing gowns of Tsarinas, cradles comparable to kingsize beds – all either commissioned by the Tsars themselves or gifted by European diplomats seeking audience. It is truly a mind-bending display of wealth. That is, until we come across the tiny throne room.
It is always fascinating to encounter a piece of history or geography in real life, when you have read about or seen it on the internet; but despite this expectation, the human mind still manages to get stumped each time (Guess this underestimation bias is why market trends will always exist) When I came face to face with Ivan the Terrible’s ivory throne, or the two-seated one for young Peter and Ivan with a hole in its back for Sophia to advise the youngsters on matters of the state, or the crown that had been used for coronations across the generations of a powerful dynasty, or the grandeur of the other thrones on display (for instance, one of the thrones boasted of 300kg of gold, while another had 900 diamonds!), it was difficult to not get carried away in the moment and stand in awe at not just the wealth, but the vibes of power that seemed to transcend time to make their presence felt *shivers*
Next came the mysterious sounding Diamond Fund, a small darkened hall guarded by KGB-types, and with shining display cases alongside its walls, displaying some serious diamonds and gems. The vibrant color gradients of the gems and the sheer sizes of the displayed diamonds (some as big as 300 carats) dug out mostly from under Russia, were a marvel. I literally have no more words to describe them; I only recall the silence with which I took in the information from the audio guide, one number after another.
All this awesomeness, in the true sense of the word for once, aided by the comprehensive and carefully preserved collections from the state history museum got me thinking of the rich culture Russia has had, its history embedded with its contemporary European powers. Which got me thinking why is our rich history not this well preserved? Why do we, as Indians, not display our crown jewels in secure museums like the Diamond Fund, or describe our many extensive dynasties of the North and the South like the Romanovs or the Ruriks? Why not market such existing museums well and make them sustainable with viable commercialization? Why do we, as the common man and thus the likely consumers of this material, not value our history enough to not cringe at paying more than just 20 or 50 rupees (<$1) for upkeep and preservation of more and more places like these, but happily spend hundreds on overvalued samosas at over-hyped movies?
Any how, as the trip progressed, as is the nature of our species, these introspections passed and were replaced by fresh ones. It also wasn't difficult to get distracted with so many new sights that the brain was getting bombarded with every hour. See, this is one of the things that I really like about travel. Somehow, I think all these new experiences act as lubricants to hasten the flow of information in your head. Somehow, these experiences add to the richness of one's memories and "open up" your mind. They give you perspective. They teach you things that someday in the future you can apply in your own life. (Simply put, it's a lot of data collection!) For example, when you see people happily busking on streets and metro stops for a living (and also being rewarded for it), you learn that their view of life is in direct contrast to yours. You often earn more and try to figure out how to be happy, they are happy and are trying to figure out how to earn more.
I guess that's enough extrapolation for today. More Moscow fun to follow, with St Petersburg following close behind.